How sustainable is wood?

With increasing public knowledge over the sustainability credentials of various raw materials, companies of all sizes are under increasing pressure to demonstrate that their products and manufacturing processes are as environmentally friendly as possible. Simply put, responsible corporate behavior is no longer an option – it’s a necessity.

There are many materials available for construction projects, each with their pros and cons, but none can claim to combine usefulness, availability, and sustainability as well as wood does. Here, we explore some environmental advantages that wood brings to the table…

Wood is renewable and recyclable

Compared with competing building materials such as metal, plastics, stone, and concrete, wood offers a series of benefits – key among these is that it is a renewable resource – as a natural product, wood supplies can be renewed by planting new trees and managing forests sustainably. At Thermory, we strive to contribute to the sustainable management of forests, and there is a strong movement in this area by many timber manufacturers. At the end of its use as a construction material, wood can also be re-used, recycled, or downcycled.

Wood has a smaller environmental impact than the alternatives

The level of carbon emissions from wood production is less than 100 kg of CO2 per 1,000 kg produced, compared with over 300 kg for brick and over 2,000 kg for steel. In addition, global studies assessing the lifecycle of building materials have found that wood is less damaging in terms of air and water pollution, solid waste, and the use of energy and ecological resources. Wood’s lifetime embodied energy – the amount of energy consumed through the production process – is more than three times lower than that of steel, plastic, and concrete, all of which also require more effort and resources to dispose of at the end of their useful life. Wood byproducts such as bark and shavings can additionally be used as a biofuel, offsetting energy used in the production process.

It’s biodegradable

Wood that has been used in construction may still be milled and repurposed for other building or home improvement projects. Even when it reaches the very end of its lifecycle though, wood doesn’t require a special process to return its nutrients to the earth – as long as it’s given suitable conditions, it will break down by naturally itself, which also makes it ideal for composting. By contrast, plastic can take up to 1,000 years to break down, and recycling or downcycling steel and concrete requires significant amounts of energy – albeit less than producing them as new from virgin materials.

Trees absorb carbon dioxide, and wood holds it in

An average hardwood tree, such as alder or mahogany, will absorb around 22 kg of CO2 from the atmosphere per year, as well as other polluting gases including nitrogen oxides, ammonia, and sulfur dioxide. The really great thing is that once the tree has been turned into wood for use as a building material, it locks the carbon dioxide away for the duration of its usage, which could be anything from a few decades to hundreds of years.

Wood makes it easier to achieve sustainability certification

When working with restrictive regulatory requirements for sustainability, wood is an ideal building material simply by virtue of the benefits mentioned in this article, which can help when it comes to gaining permissions for a project. Wood’s versatility and sustainability features can make it much easier to attain third-party certification. Conforming to recognized standards for sustainability can give the building project a positive public image – and in some cases, it can be the difference between getting a contract or not in the first place.

A big part of the reason we’re so passionate about this strong, elegant natural material is that when it comes to sustainability, the benefits speak for themselves. Because Thermory’s specialized thermal modification process doesn’t require any chemical processes, our wood is highly durable, providing strength and stability that stand the test of time. Wood is a superb construction material – and alongside its versatility, aesthetics, and insulating properties, the environmental advantages over the alternatives only strengthen this claim.